All photos by Joy Asico (firstname.lastname@example.org / www.asicophoto.com)
Local favorites Yeasayer arrived in town for two sold out shows last week at the 9:30 Club, trucking in enough laser beams and mirrors to ensure everyone will be seeing spots until around 2016. When the black curtain hiding the stage setup finally dropped on both nights, what ensued was a fuzzy, blinding mash-up of 80s-laced dance music and old school Baltimore charm, performed on a stage that married the shiniest visuals from Battlestar Galactica and Tron. The band had obviously planned for those in the audience who’d bought tickets to both shows, by switching up the set lists for each night, and the end results were two distinct but equally dazzling concerts.
While the majority of electronically-based bands incorporate exponentially increasing loops and pre-recorded samples into their live shows, Yeasayer gives a big nod to the basics of making great live music by peeling away several of the overly-manipulated layers from the recorded versions of their tracks. Then, using actual vocals, a guitarist, a kick-ass drummer, and a real-for-real bass guitar -- and when was the last time you saw a bass guitar at a dance concert -- the band delivered their material live in a surprisingly organic manner. Or as organic as you can get while your corneas are being singed by a light show visible from Jupiter. Rather than route the electronic portions of a track through keyboards, lead singers Chris Keating and Anand Wilder used giant computer boxes to fill out the songs. This allowed Keating to merely punch a button to summon a synth-line, and left him free to dance around the stage engaging the crowd, which was an effective to pull the crowd into the show and was insanely charming at the same time.
The band opened Thursday night with “Fingers Never Bleed,” and focused the majority of the set on new material. When Fragrant World came out earlier this year, detractors (this site included) found it uneven but noted the promise in stand-out tracks like “Henrietta” and “Longevity” -- and while the two best songs on the album were arguably two of the better performances of the evening, even the weaker songs sounded stellar when delivered live. “Henrietta” shifts gears right in the middle of the song, but instead of turning on vocal loops as featured in the studio version, Keating, Wilder, and bassist Ira Wolf Tuton all broke out in perfect quasi-gospel harmony together. The same tactic was used for “Reagan’s Skeleton” late in the show, and even for “Devil and the Deed” in the encore, and the songs are simply much, much better live. There’s a choppiness in the recorded versions, a glued-together-badly quality about some of them, that smoothes out beautifully on stage. It’s a feat not every band can manage, but Yeasayer is able to pull off a bit of transformative magic amidst all the bright flashing lights.
Lead singer duties transferred over to Wilder for “O.N.E.,” from 2010’s Odd Blood, and the dance floor devolved into a total spazfest when Keating egged the crowd into shouting along to lines like "hold me like you used to, control me like you used to.” Later, Keating announced that “Ambling Alp” would be the last song (and of course it wasn’t - they put on a four-song encore), and by the end of the track all three frontmen had joined together again to finish on a remarkable high note.
The 9:30 Club has been raking in lots of well-deserved love of late, by way of awards for top club in the whole nation and such, and the love’s been pouring from the stage from bands as well. Yeasayer hails from Brooklyn, but its members are originally from the Baltimore/DC area, as demonstrated by the neighborhood shout-outs to Adams Morgan, B’More, all of Northern Virginia, and even PG County. They heaped praise on the club, made a brief political statement (which Keating quickly renamed “middle school bullshit”) by calling Romney’s kids a bunch of big-headed preppies, and joked with the crowd about Wolf Tuton’s resemblance to Tim Tebow -- his belief that sleeves are optional for big-gunned bass guitar players certainly didn’t dissuade the comparison. The Thursday show in particular had a homecoming feeling to it, and it seemed like half the crowd may have gone to school with various members of the band. Dammit, Yeasayer, you know now how much D.C loves you -- so where can we apply for our corneal transplants?